MONEY online shopping

Amazon Wants to Invade Your Home With Its One-Click Buying Button

Amazon boxes in front of door
Goss Images—Alamy

If Amazon has its way, one day our homes will be equipped with devices that detect when we're running low on household supplies and let us order more—from Amazon, of course—with one touch of a button.

According to Reuters, Amazon is developing a device that would be installed in a house—perhaps tucked away on a kitchen counter, or inside a closet or pantry—and enable customers to order detergent, toothpaste, paper towels, and other home supplies by simply pressing a button.

Amazon, which tends to be notoriously tight-lipped about its innovations and experiments until Jeff Bezos feels like blowing everyone’s minds (see the “60 Minutes” story on drone deliveries last year), isn’t talking publicly about the one-button device it reportedly has in the works. It’s also unclear if and when such a device would be ready to be tested in actual homes. Anonymous sources cited by Reuters say that the device is being developed by Lab 126, the secretive outfit owned by Amazon that has helped design and engineer gadgets such as the Kindle and Amazon Fire Phone.

In theory, the device would be installed in an Internet-connected home, in which various appliances would “talk” to each other via wi-fi. Sensors would be able to detect when the home is, say, in need of a new air-conditioning filter, or when you’re due to buy more laundry detergent, and it would prompt the customer to order new supplies with one press of a button.

In addition to the one-button device, Amazon is also looking into developing wearable gadgets that might allow customers to place orders for home supplies and other items with a single touch. The potential of such innovations follows right in line with Amazon’s ongoing efforts to be the destination of consumers seeking to purchase, well, pretty much anything and everything you can imagine.

Amazon Prime is brilliant not only because it gets customers to fork over $99 upfront annually in exchange for two-day shipping, but more importantly because it results in members making far more of their everyday purchases at Amazon. The online shopping giant’s forays into same-day delivery, groceries, and a household supply service called Prime Pantry are all part of its mission to eliminate tedious shopping errands by allowing customers to handle them via Amazon and one-click buying. Amazon thereby has been systematically horning in on the everyday sales of its competitors, which include players ranging from Best Buy to Costco, and CVS pharmacies to Kroger supermarkets.

Then there’s the Fire Phone, which hit the market this past summer and stood out from the pack most significantly thanks to Firefly—a feature that scans the barcodes of items and lets you purchase them instantly, via Amazon of course. Anyone buying the phone also got a free year of Amazon Prime, which brings customers further into the Amazon purchase-sphere. Less than two months after the Fire Phone entered the market at a minimum price of $199 (with a two-year contract), it was discounted to 99¢ (a price drop that some had predicted the moment the device was introduced).

Nonetheless, the Fire Phone flop isn’t going to slow Amazon’s pursuit of innovations—and a larger and larger portion of our purchases. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal spread the word that Amazon was a developing a service dubbed “anticipatory shipping,” in which the company would anticipate customer needs before any order had been placed, and it would ship what it felt you needed before anyone ever clicked “buy.” Now it looks like Amazon wants to have devices installed in customer homes, so that it can anticipate our shopping needs at a deeper, more invasive level and sell us stuff before anyone even considers other shopping possibilities, let alone actually leaving the home to make a run to a store.

The goals for Amazon in such developments is to ease any friction and slowdown in the purchase transaction, to eliminate hassles and save time for customers—and to sell us more and more stuff.

TIME

My Shopping Trip With BuyPartisan Changed Everything

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Getty Images/Brand X

Meet the app that helps you put your money where your mouth is

The first thing I did after downloading the “BuyPartisan” app is run to TIME’s office supply closet to inspect the pens.

The debut program from Spend Consciously, a company founded by former congressional staffer Matthew Colbert, allows smartphone owners to scan a barcode and reveal the political contributions from the brand’s board of directors, CEO, employees and PACs. Even in this digital age, the pen is an intimate tool for the fair and balanced reporter and with BuyPartisan suddenly I had a window into the ideological hearts of my dearest inanimate colleagues.

Bic’s cheap-o ball pens, nearly Soviet in quality, are predictably leftist with more than 80% of their donations since 2002—the app currently averages the last six election cycles—going to Democrats. The ostentatious decadence of the ink gushing roller pen from Uni-Ball—the pen where you can draw a lake by leaving it in one spot—is, unsurprisingly, 95% Republican. Mankind’s greatest pen achievement, the workhorse of the genre, the Pilot G2 premium gel roller is more or less down the middle, with 29% to Republicans, 37% to Dems and 34% to “Other” (independents or donations without clear partisan bias). Bipartisanship never felt so good.

BuyPartisan, it turns out, is extremely addictive, as I soon found when I went to scour the aisles at Target, the valhalla of political product voyeurism. To stay organized, I browsed with particular shoppers in mind, the first of which, because it came most naturally, was a seven-year-old boy.

It’s too bad kids don’t care about politics because conservative children (every parent and camp counselor knows that all kids are William F. Buckleys at heart) would have a field day on the candy prowl for Halloween. Hershey, makers of such big candy bar names as Kit Kat, is 79% Republican. Then there’s Snickers, Milky Way and Twix, all made by Mars, which is 75% Republican. Even the tri-color classic, Candy Corn, by Brach & Brock Confections gives 45% to Rs and 28% to Ds, though the CEO personally gives 60% to Dems. Little lefties have to settle for the peanuts in the trail mix of the candy universe, Tootsie Rolls, which are 42% Democratic and 38% Republican.

Woe unto the liberal university student, the next hat I donned in my journey. Virtually every sector of the collegian’s life is dominated by products that funnel money mostly to the Grand Old Party, and it’s not the kind of party they’re looking for, according to 2012 exit polls. The home cleaning category is dominated, obviously, by Proctor & Gamble’s Febreeze which goes 70% to Republicans. Since Febreeze also dominates the personal hygiene category in some dark corners of dorm life, that’s a twofer for the Party of Lincoln. When it comes to food—known more commonly among the university set as Ramen Noodles—college radicals are even worse off. Ramen maker Maruchan Inc. goes 85% to Republicans.

All of which may help explain why so many college students take solace in the one place where the scales tilt, appropriately, nearer to the place we can all meet in the middle. Beer.

Though Coors Brewing Co. skews 49% Republican, the Boston Beer Co. that makes Sam Adams is 80% Democratic. Other excellent beers seem more evenly split. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is 37% Republican to 34% Democrat. New Belgium Brewing Company goes 38% Republican and 42% Democrat. And if they can’t agree on a compromise beer then there’s always the now Russian-owned hipster/grandpa-favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon, which raises a whole set of questions BuyPartisan is not yet capable of answering.

They may have to wait for the upcoming app EyeSpend, which Spend Consciously says will be “a nutrition label for your conscience.” EyeSpend will be similar to BuyPartisan but it’ll show you more than just to which party your money goes. Instead, the user will be able to create a profile tailored to his or her ideological interests and be matched with products that meet that criteria. “Then you can make more informed buying decisions, investment decisions, whatever you want to do,” says Spend Consciously founder Matthew Colbert.

All of which sounds like a whole lot of trouble for the shopper. But also, if I’m being honest, a whole lot of fun.

MONEY Odd Spending

12 Things Made for Kids That Are Now Being Marketed to Adults

Who says kids should get to have all the fun? Not the forces behind a wide range of seemingly juvenile foods, products, and places that are increasingly being sold to adults—plenty of whom are happy to play along.

It’s hard to remember a time when video games and comic books were enjoyed almost exclusively by people under the age of 18. But that was the case a mere couple of decades ago, before both began featuring violence, profanity, sex, and other material not appropriate for young children. Along the same lines, in recent times many other things long associated with kids are now being marketed to adult consumers. Here are a dozen examples:

Gummy Vitamins. A string of studies indicating that vitamins appear to be largely a waste of money has resulted in flat sales for the once sizzling vitamin market. It looks like consumers are getting the messages spread by researchers in the field, who point out that while vitamin supplements are correlated with better health, there is little proof of causality because the people taking vitamins tend to healthier and take better care of themselves in the first place. But if consumers are dubious about the benefits of boring old-fashioned vitamins, they appear less skeptical about vitamins “disguised as candy,” a.k.a. gummy vitamins. Once popular only with children, colorful, chewable, sweet-tasting vitamins are now ubiquitous in stores’ adult vitamin sections, and makers of such adult vitamins say that the category has been enjoying “explosive growth” of late.

Walt Disney World. In some ways, Disney World has always been marketed to adults—who often say they enjoy “feeling like a kid” while touring the theme parks sans children. Some even wish Disney would host child-free days when adults could hit the rides without having to deal with the young whippersnappers clogging up the parks. While that’s highly unlikely to ever take place, Disney has taken several steps over the years to appeal to adult-only clientele, including the introduction of booze for sale at the Magic Kingdom, as well as special events like $35 “After Hours” party with alcohol and tasting menus, and, most recently, a $79 “Food & Wine Late Night” at EPCOT.

Pop Tarts. While interest in breakfast cereal has collapsed in recent years, sales of another kid favorite at the breakfast table, Pop Tarts, have risen each and every year for more than three decades straight. The Wall Street Journal noted that while Pop Tarts are most popular with teens and younger children, “adults reach for them as a retro snack.” It’s not just nostalgia that’s drawing adults to Pop Tarts, but that, “Shoppers increasingly want quick breakfasts they can eat with one hand on the go.” Over the years, Pop Tarts and its imitators have periodically tried out products more directly marketed to adults and foodies, such as “Toaster Pastries” in flavors like Cherry Pomegranate from Nature’s Path.

Happy Meals. McDonald’s briefly tried to market a “Go Active Happy Meal” for adults a decade ago, with a salad and an exercise booklet instead of chicken nuggets and a plastic toy. It obviously didn’t catch on—very few healthy fast food items are successful—but this fall, the Happy Meal for Adults concept is back, bizarrely, in the world of high fashion. Nordstrom is selling a series of pop culture-themed items from Moschino, including an iPhone case that looks like a McDonald’s French fry container ($85) and a Happy Meal lookalike shoulder bag that retails for over $1,000.

Backpacks. In what could be considered a sign that adults really don’t want to grow up, backpack sales are up dramatically among consumers ages 18 and up—including a 48% rise in backpack purchases by female adults over a recent time span. Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and Fendi are among the many fashion designers to feature posh leather and camouflage versions of the bag normally associated with high school and college kids, only theirs sometimes cost $2,000.

Lunchables. OK, so neither Kraft nor its Oscar Mayer brand actually markets Lunchables to adults. But the Adult Lunch Combos look eerily like Lunchables only without Oreos or Capri Sun, and everyone is referring to the new protein-packed prepared lunches as “Lunchables for Adults” even though the real name is the Portable Protein Pack.

Obstacle Courses. Kids have playgrounds in town parks and schools. What do adults have to help keep them in shape while also having fun? The gym doesn’t qualify because, for most people, working out is work, not fun. The exception is when the workout allows adults to swing, jump, get dirty, and challenge themselves on courses made specifically for them, like those on the popular TV show “American Ninja Warrior” and on Tough Mudder and other extreme obstacle course races. This fall, Las Vegas is even hosting an “Adult-Themed” course where the obstacles have names like the Dominatrix Dungeon and the Blue Balls Dash.

Sugary Cereals. A big reason that cereal sales have dropped is that fewer kids are eating them for breakfast. Yet as parents try to sub in healthier fare as a replacement for kid-favorite sugary cereals, the cereal giants appear to be having some success reaching a different audience—the parents themselves. Baby Boomers and Gen X, who grew up craving the sugar rush provided by a bowl of neon-colored goodies on Saturday mornings, are now being fed heaping doses of nostalgia, in the form of cartoon-character cereals brought back from the dead and other adult-focused marketing efforts. The fastest-growing consumers of Trix and Lucky Charms are, in fact, older adults.

Legos. “The Lego Movie” was certainly clever and entertaining enough to warrant an adult audience, especially among those who grew up building with the bricks. Lately, Lego has been making another appeal to adults. Several Legoland Discovery Centers—which normally attract families with children under the age of 10 or 12—have been offering special Adult Nights, where all visitors must be 18 or over.

Fruit Roll-Ups. Many adults would probably be embarrassed if they were caught eating Fruit Roll-Ups, delicious though they may be. How can you avoid being kidded about your preference for what is a quintessential kid snack? Easy. Call them something more adult-sounding, such as Fruit Strips or Fruit Leather.

Hot Pockets. Last year, Nestle attempted to broaden the Hot Pocket demographic—typically, teen boys and slacker college kids who don’t want to cook or even order pizza—by introducing gourmet versions featuring angus beef, hickory ham to appeal to adult foodies.

Halloween. October 31 used to be about children trick-or-treating door to door in their neighborhoods. Now it’s the centerpiece of a whole Halloween season where the kids are invited to enjoy only some—but by no means all—of the fun. A year ago, adults spent roughly $1.2 billion on costumes, compared to $1 billion spent on costumes for kids. Roughly 7 out of 10 college-aged adults plan on dressing up for Halloween, which explains the sales success of oddly “sexy” costumes of pizza slices or corn fields. Or sexy nuns. Adults also tend to spend more on their costumes than they do on Halloween outfits for kids. So that explains why companies are marketing the holiday to adults more and more. Still, it’s hard to come up with a good explanation for the existence of the Sexy Pizza Costume.

MONEY Food & Drink

Nostalgia SURGE! Cult Favorite Foods & Drinks Back from the Dead

Twinkies Chocodile
Hostess

Fueled by nostalgia—and often, outcries on social media—the snacks, sodas, and beers you haven't been able to buy for years are making big comebacks.

There’s no mystery as to why malls play old Christmas songs, why retro products and brands pop up regularly in the marketplace, and why advertisers are constantly trying to evoke memories of our youth. But if anyone had any doubts, the results of a study published over the summer by the Journal of Consumer Research show that we’re more likely to spend money when we’re in a nostalgic mood.

Consumers are also, we know, more prone to buying stuff when it hasn’t been available in quite some time, and when we get the idea it may disappear again because it’s a limited-time offer. The periodic resurfacing of the McDonald’s McRib is a great example of how this strategy can work over and over to successfully drum up sales—for a product that, remember, was discontinued from the regular menu because not enough people liked it.

These varied forces have combined to fuel a surge in sales for products ranging from cheap old-school beer (featuring retro bottles, cans, and logos) to re-releases of old-school sneakers, Nike Air Jordans in particular. And these forces are also fueling a surge in discontinued food and drink products being brought back from the dead, including, well, SURGE.

The highly caffeinated citrus soda brand was brought back by Coca-Cola this week due to popular demand. The masses spoke in the form of a Facebook page with more than 140,000 Likes that demanded its return to the marketplace. And then they took action by buying up the first batch in its entirety within hours of it going on sale at Amazon.com.

Here are a few other food and drink products that disappeared for a while, only to resurface to the rejoicing of more than a few cult fans.

Hostess Chocodiles
At one point, sellers on eBay were asking as much as $90 a box for these chocolate-covered Twinkie treats, and buyers paid $17 for a single Chocodile. That was back during the dark days, when Chocodiles weren’t available in the vast majority of the country. In July Hostess announced it was bringing the Chocodile back nationally, by way of some hyperbolic statements from the company’s CEO. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” said William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”

BK Chicken Fries
Over the summer, around the same time Burger King was dramatically scaling back availability of Satisfries, its low-calorie French fry, the fast food giant brought back decidedly less healthy Chicken Fries to the menu for a limited time. The breaded-and-fried chicken strips were on the menu from 2005 until they were discontinued in 2012. But after online petitions and Tumblr pages pleaded for their return, BK relented. “On peak days we’ve seen one tweet every forty seconds about Chicken Fries, many of them directly petitioning, begging, for us to bring them back,” Eric Hirschhorn, Burger King’s Chief Marketing Officer North America, said in a statement. “When you have guests who are this passionate about a product, you have to give them what they want.”

Ballantine IPA
The hipster cult status of PBR has caused the Pabst Brewing Company to take a hard look at the beer brands it owns and see if should start brewing any of its discontinued old-school beers—which, perhaps, might also gain a following with hipsters. That’s essentially why Pabst relaunched Schlitz in 2008, and then reintroduced Schlitz vintage “Tall Boy” can a few years later. And it’s why the company is bringing back Ballantine IPA, the 136-year-old brew produced for decades in Newark, N.J., credited as America’s first IPA. It helps that the craft beer revolution has made hoppy IPAs extremely popular.

General Mills Monster Cereals
For most of the year, shoppers can’t find Boo Berry, Count Chocula, and Franken Berry in the cereal aisles of any supermarkets. But then sometime in late summer, their dormancy period ends like that of a pumpkin spice latte, and they’re suddenly available again just in time for the ramp-up to Halloween. This year, the cereals feature new designs from DC Comics artists, being sold side by side next to cereal boxes with retro characters and logos from the 1970s and ’80s. Count Chocula and Franken Berry are also being sold in select stores in Canada this season, which is unusual. “No more trips across the U.S. border to stock up!,” a General Mills post promised.

Last year, General Mills made monster cereal fans extra happy by bringing back two rare products, Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy, which hadn’t been sold in more than two decades. Alas, it looks like the two cult favorites are not returning to stores this season, prompting fans to voice their disappointment with comments on the company blog.

Something tells us we’ll be seeing both Frute Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy again in the future. In today’s nostalgia-ridden world, no brands really die, not even when they feature monster characters that are undead.

MONEY Advertising

Newspapers Are Charging Extra … to Give You More Ads

stack of newspapers
iStock

Some newspapers plan on charging subscribers extra for certain "premium issues," such as one on Thanksgiving. What makes them "premium"? Loads and loads of Black Friday ads.

Jim Romenesko reported this week that both the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit Free Press have notified subscribers that they will be charged extra to receive issues of the paper published on Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps other days as well. The Tribune informed subscribers that special “premium issues” such as the one on Turkey Day will incur an additional charge of $2 apiece, while the Free Press plans on charging print subscribers the Sunday cover price ($1 more) for the Thanksgiving paper.

Why? Apparently, it’s because the paper will be overloaded with Black Friday circulars. “The Thanksgiving print edition includes Black Friday sale information, coupons and details about incredible door busters!” a Free Press letter told subscribers.

The Thanksgiving papers are heavier than normal editions, so they’re therefore costlier to produce and deliver. Still, ads have traditionally been sold in order to keep newsstand and subscriber prices down. Bizarrely, here we have an instance in which the presence of more ads is being used as a justification to charge customers extra. As the Consumerist pointed out, in the case of the Tribune, “they’re calling this paper a ‘premium issue’ even though the majority of the extra content is advertisements. That companies pay the newspaper for.”

Granted, “extreme couponers” and Black Friday shopping fanatics love such ads. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru has explained that the pull-out ad sections of Sunday papers are essentially a “destination” that a sizable segment of consumers enjoy wading into and exploring. The fact that Sunday circulars are more of a draw for some “readers” than, say, the editorials or even the sports section has to depress the already depressed journalistic masses to no end.

As for the loyal subscribers who actually read the paper and put up with ads in order to keep print prices down, they’re surely peeved by the moves being attempted by the Chicago Tribune and Detroit Free Press. At least both papers told Romenesko that if subscribers are upset with the extra charges, they can be credited the amounts by calling up customer service.

MONEY Tech

Sorry, iPhone Fans, Surveys Say Apple’s Not That Cool

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Street style photos featuring Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 at Lincoln Center on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Donald Bowers—Getty Images for Samsung

Despite iPhone mania around the world, Apple's "cool factor" is supposedly on the decline.

For the most part, reviews of the iPhone 6 glow with praise. Pre-orders of the new iPhones shot through the roof. Stories from around the globe on Friday showed lines stretching for blocks outside Apple Stores, filled with shoppers willing to brave cold temperatures, monotony, and discomfort just so that they could hand money over to Apple and the wireless provider of their choosing.

In light of the extent to which fans are going to score the new iPhone, Apple must universally be regarded as the coolest consumer tech brand on the planet, right? Well, maybe not.

The results of a new Reuters/Ipsos poll actually give the coolness edge to Android over Apple. Survey respondents typically come to that conclusion because of the perception that brands like Samsung (which uses Android as its operating system) have taken the lead in innovation, especially in terms of larger smartphone size. Lately, Samsung has been mocking Apple in ads, accusing the iPhone maker of playing catch-up and basically imitating larger “phablet” gadgets that it brought to the market a couple of years ago. In the Reuters survey, more people were of the opinion that Apple has grown less cool than Android over the last two years (16% versus 11%). And while 50% of respondents said Android had grown cooler over the past two years, a slightly smaller percentage (48%) indicated Apple increased its cool factor.

Earlier this year, a brand preference study from ConsumerMetrix rated Samsung as the top tech brand among consumers. Apple was rated fifth (after Sony, Microsoft, and HP, believe it or not), and researchers noted that ratings fell in particular among its “core affluent and younger demographics,” and that the “weak performance may be attributed to its relative lack of new product introductions.”

Bear in mind that the ConsumerMetrix study was obviously conducted before Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, that survey participants were from the U.S. and Europe, and that Android has a far bigger share of the market in Europe than it does in America. By the summer of 2013, nearly half of all smartphones sold in Europe were Samsungs.

The question arises as to which came first: Have people been buying Samsungs and other Android devices because they think they’re cooler and more innovative than Apple? Or are they saying that Samsung is cooler simply because that’s their brand of device, and they want to feel like they made the cool choice?

In yet another survey, this one conducted on the behalf of Chegg, the discount college textbook sales and rental site, around the time of Apple’s unveiling of its new devices, American high school and college students seem to have concluded that “Apple is losing its cool factor among its technology contemporaries.” When asked what tech brands were “cool,” more students felt that the word applied to Amazon (72%) and Google (71%) than Apple (64%). Three out of ten students decreed that Apple is “smug,” more than half (55%) felt that Apple’s new phones are “more style than substance,” and one quarter agree with the idea that Apple may have lost its edge.

What’s especially interesting about the Chegg study, which originally had a headline suggesting that “Apple [Is] Losing Its Cool,” was that it was quickly undercut by the folks who published it (supposedly by mistake). The results are no longer to be found among Chegg’s press releases. Why? Chegg admitted that the headline didn’t really match the results, especially data showing that 36% of students would “probably” or “definitely” be buying the new iPhone. “A third of students saying they’re definitely or probably going to buy the phone to me didn’t jibe with Apple losing its cool,” Chegg’s Usher Lieberman explained to Investors Business Daily. “What should have been the headline is that a third of students are planning on buying the phone.”

That’s the headline that truly matters to Apple as well. It doesn’t really matter if some people think that Apple is uncool or is somehow losing its edge. Money and action speak louder than words and opinions, and clearly Apple devices are cool enough to make fans wait in lines for days and pay astronomical prices just to get their hands on the new iPhones. Apple’s gotta consider that behavior to be very, very cool.

MONEY Shopping

Now You Can Return Stuff to Sears Without Getting Out of Your Car

Sears Returns
Mel Evans—AP

A new service from Sears promises shoppers that they can make returns and exchanges in less than five minutes, without ever having to step foot outside the car.

For old-fashioned brick-and-mortar-based stores, it’s hard if not impossible to compete with the cut-throat pricing and convenience of online shopping. The strip malls and shopping centers of America are littered with shuttered stores once occupied by iconic retailers like Barnes & Noble, Staples, and yes, Sears. This week, Sears shares plummeted when news hit that the struggling retailer needed a $400 million loan from its CEO, Eddie Lampert—actually, the loan came by way of a hedge fund Lampert owns—to stay on track with plans to, well, not totally go out of business.

Also this week, Sears announced a new service that will hopefully make it a more appealing shopping option compared with online and physical store competitors alike. Earlier this year, Sears rolled out In-Vehicle Pickup as an option for its Shop Your Way app, and now customers can not only do curbside pickups of purchases without going inside stores, they can do exchanges and returns as well.

In recent years, grocery stores and select chains such as the Container Store have introduced drive-thru and pickup services targeted at today’s harried, on-the-go consumers, who can pre-order merchandise online and then swing by to pick it up—without having to actually “go shopping” for the goods inside, and without ever having to get out of the car.

To take advantage of Sears’s new service, the customer requests a return or exchange at the Sears website, and after getting an email confirmation heads to the selected store to handle the physical transaction. Once you’re in the parking lot, you use the app to alert the store you’ve arrived, and Sears guarantees a store associate will appear within five minutes to complete the return or exchange. A YouTube video explains further:

Obviously, Sears prefers that customers keep the merchandise they purchase rather than return or exchange it. But a good return policy is incredibly important in helping retailers drum up sales in the first place. Shoppers are more likely to make purchases when they know it’ll be quick and easy to return or exchange the merchandise. And once items are bought, they tend to stay bought. So long as customers don’t take advantage of the system, generous return policies generally benefit stores even more than they do shoppers.

One of the biggest reasons for the success of online sellers such as Zappos (which is owned by Amazon) is that they are renowned for terrific customer service, especially when it comes to easing the return process—complete with free shipping in both directions. Shoppers like anything that makes their lives easier, and the ability to conduct purchase pickups, returns, and exchanges from the comfort of one’s car certainly qualifies.

MONEY Shopping

Surge Is Back! These 10 Sodas Should Be Next

Surge, the '90s soda with a cult following, has finally been revived. But why stop there? Here are 10 other soft drinks that need to make a comeback.

For years, the people of the world have clamored for the return of Surge, Coca-Cola’s 1990’s response to Mountain Dew. The xtreme-styled soft drink, discontinued in 2002, was revived this week after a dedicated Facebook group of fans—143,000 strong—convinced the soda-maker to reintroduce their favorite product.

That’s great for Surge lovers, who bought up all of Surge’s new stock within hours, but what about fans of other sodas that were killed before their time? Here are our picks for 10 soft drinks that need to make a comeback.

  • Coca-Cola BlāK

    Coca-Cola Blak
    Chris Rank—Bloomberg News

    Everyone loves coffee. Everyone loves soda. In 2006, Coca-cola put that together into one can’t-miss idea: What if we released a coffee soda? The result was Coke BlāK, a carbonated beverage that tasted just like bubbly iced coffee and packaged in a fancy glass bottle. It lasted all of two years before it was given the axe. How did it taste, you ask? Amazing. Or at least my high-school self thought so, and I didn’t even like coffee back then. Pepsi also tried its hand at a coffee cola, Pepsi Kona, in the ’90s, but gave up on the drink soon after its release. Now that coffee is more of a dominant force in our society than ever, it’s time both beverages made a comeback.

  • Pepsi Holiday Spice

    Pepsi Holiday Spice
    Tim Ereneta via Flickr

    Pumpkin spice is all the rage right now, but Pepsi was bringing this holiday flavor to soda as far back as 2004. After a brief disappearance from the market, which prompted at least one petition from fans calling for its return, Pepsi brought the drink back in the form of the slightly spicier Christmas Pepsi. That too disappeared, leaving a huge spicy hole on convenience store shelves.

  • Josta

    A bottle of Pepsi's new Josta drink
    Richard Drew—Associated Press

    PepsiCo’s Josta may have been one of the first real “energy drinks” to hit American shores, and definitely the first to be made by a major soda manufacturer. Released in 1995, Josta included guarana, now an energy drink staple, and competed with the recently revived Jolt soda for caffeine-happy customers before it was dropped a year before the new millennium.

    Why did it fail? Based on fan descriptions, Josta sounds like an acquired taste. From SaveJosta’s website:

    [Its flavor is] very difficult to describe. It’s safe to say it was one of the most uniquely-flavored beverages ever sold in the mainstream sodamarket (sic). It is fruity and berry like, with a bit of dark spices and the astringent bite of guarana berries. The color is a deep red, almost brown.

    I initially didn’t know what to make of it, but after a couple bottles fell completely in love.

    Considering the drink was released (and discontinued) around the same time as Surge, which targeted a similar demographic, and the fact that it was produced by Coca-Cola’s main rival, one could see Josta enjoying its own triumphant return. The soda even has a the requisite grass-roots lobbying group, although their recent petition to bring back Josta had fewer than 100 signatures at press time.

  • dnL

    dnL—the 7-Up logo upside-down—was an attempt to get parent company Cadbury Schweppes in on the xtreme drink craze. Unlike its parent brand, which tried to court an un-cola image, dnL was everything 7-Up was not: caffeinated, neon green, and marketed as an even more hip/cool/rad version of Mountain Dew. The soda’s official website, archived here, invites interested consumers to “Check It” and promotes dnL’s affiliation with the extreme snowboarding game SSX 3. After lagging sales, which Cadbury Schweppes America’s CEO blamed on the product’s poor fit with the 7-Up brand, dnL was discontinued in 2006.

  • Sprite Remix

    Sprite Remix
    Coca-Cola—Getty Images

    Compared with Coke, which repeatedly (and sometimes catastrophically) experimented with new flavors, Sprite has always been relatively stable. But in 2003, Coca-Cola decided to change that by releasing Sprite Remix. Remix came in three flavors—Tropical, Berryclear, and Aruba Jam—and each commercial featured plenty of record scratching and reminders that this wasn’t your parent’s soda, man. Soon it wasn’t anyone’s soda. Sprite Remix was cut in 2005.

  • Coke-Cola Lime

    Coca-Cola Lime
    Alamy

    Don’t even start with me about how this soda still exists, because Diet Coke Lime, which I believe was kept around just to taunt me, is a but a pale shadow of the magic that was real actual regular Coke Lime. It was tangy, it didn’t have that metallic Diet Coke burn, and even though it only lasted from 2005 to 2006, those were some good times. Also, the bottle’s green and red branding looked pretty darn cool.

  • Pepsi Twist

    Pepsi Twist
    John Brown—Alamy

    This lemon-flavored cola seemed like a great idea, but apparently never quite caught on. It had an initial run from 2000 through 2006—enough time to disturb most of America with a string of strange commercials—before being dropped. Twist briefly reappeared for the 2008 NFL season before disappearing again from shelves.

  • OK

    Coca-Cola's new OK soda
    Ted Thai—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

    OK soda might be one of the strangest soft drinks every brought to market. As BuzzFeed recounts in its history of the failed brand, Coca-Cola decided in 1993 that it needed a product that would connect with cynical Gen-Xers who didn’t want to drink anything made by the “the man.” The solution? Make a soda just as ironic and disaffected as its target demographic. OK adopted a faux-nihilist/dystopian advertising campaign that, among other slogans, included:

    “What’s the point of OK? Well, what’s the point of anything?”

    “OK soda says ‘Don’t be fooled into thinking there has to be a reason for everything'”

    “It’s OK for you to think I’m not OK but I am”

    In the end, sales weren’t OK. The soda never made it out of test markets and was discontinued in 1995.

  • Orbitz

    Orbitz soda
    Sean Nash via Flickr

    In 1997, Orbitz soda hit shelves, wowing consumers with its weird little balls that never sank to the bottom of the bottle. That’s not actually enough to sell soda though, at least long term. A weird early-internet marketing campaign, centered around “Planet Orbitz” and what TIME called a “cough-syrupy taste” didn’t help matters. After a year, Orbitz the soda was gone, but it lives on through its URL, Orbitz.com, which now directs to the popular travel site of the same name.

  • Crystal Pepsi

    Bottles of Crystal Pepsi are seen in a bottling factory in 1992.
    Pepsi-Cola—Associated Press

    Crystal Pepsi was only around for about a year in its original form, and then for another brief aborted reboot, but you wouldn’t know it from the absolute fervor around bringing back the clear beverage. And that’s all it was, really; just clear cola. But Pepsi made an impression with some crazy early advertising, including a 1993 super bowl spot featuring Van Halen’s “Right Now.”

    The drink didn’t meet sales goals and it was canned soon after, but then quickly reappeared as a citrus soda known only as Crystal. That flopped too, and now Crystal Pepsi only exists in the memories of its seemingly infinite fans. Those people were whipped into a frenzy last year when a hoax-site called the Wall Street Sentinel reported an early 2014 comeback. That rumor was debunked, however, and the world still yearns for another clear soda that tastes like Pepsi—or Coke, we’re not picky. Change.org is filled with Crystal Pepsi revival petitions, like this one, but without a coherent movement the soda seems far from a return.

MONEY Shopping

Why Urban Outfitters Won’t Stop Offending People

Urban Outfitters has made a habit of tasteless products. Can they ever go too far, or is any publicity good publicity?

The world awoke this morning to yet another clothing-related scandal, courtesy of Urban Outfitters. The Philadelphia-based brand, which traffics in try-hard hipster clothing, released what might be its most tasteless creation yet: a Kent State University sweatshirt adorned with what appears to be blood stains. Kent State University was home to the 1970 massacre in which four students were killed and nine others wounded by National Guard soldiers.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.25.29 AM

The thing is, this isn’t the first (or second, or even third) time Urban Outfitters has caught flak for selling horrible products. Making extremely offensive clothes has been almost synonymous with the company’s brand. Before Kent State, there was a top covered front-to-back with the word “depression.” Before that, another Urban Outfitters shirt featured a star that appeared nearly identical to the insignia Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. (More recently, Zara pulled a shirt from its shelves for the same reason.) And before that there was the infamous “Eat Less” shirt, which prompted One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush to boycott the store in protest of what she saw as a “pro-anorexia message.”

So is Urban Outfitters run by a bunch of jerks? Perhaps, but—and this is an important but—they’re jerks with business sense. Urban Outfitters Inc, the company that owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, and Bhldn brands, recently announced record quarterly sales of $811 million. If courting controversy was bad for the bottom line, Urban wouldn’t be doing it. That begs the question: Is any publicity good publicity, as the saying goes, or will the company eventually suffer if it goes too far over the line?

Kit Yarrow, PhD, a consumer psychology expert and professor at Golden Gate University (and MONEY contributor), believes being repugnant is (regrettably) a good business strategy, especially for clothing brands that target a younger audience. “I think they get encouragement to keep doing it because they do get a lot of attention for it,” said Yarrow. “It’s offensive and a little bit tasteless, but shock value just can’t be underrated these days. In some ways it’s a little bit appealing to consumers to connect with a store that’s on the edgier side, and that’s one of the ways the store tells consumers they’re pushing the boundaries and aren’t your parents lame old store.”

Another factor that may reward an offend-first strategy is that millennials, Urban Outfitter’s core demographic, are especially difficult to reach because they’re constantly bombarded with stimulation and advertising. According to Yarrow, it may take something truly shocking to break through all of the noise. A bloodstained sweater referencing an event most young people only vaguely know about might be what it takes to bring the Urban Outfitters brand to the forefront.

Yarrow doesn’t think the company will suffer for its Kent State gaffe. “If they apologize in any way, and a half-hearted apology is their typical pattern, then they’re partially forgiven,” she explained. Sure enough, the company was quick to post a completely unbelievable mea culpa on Twitter soon after the story broke.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.25.45 AM

Short of expressing explicit prejudice (and even then, there are exceptions), it’s hard for Urban Outfitters or any brand to offend so badly as to experience serious financial harm, Yarrow said. She pointed out that Chick-fil-A has persevered, despite its opposition to gay marriage. American Apparel was ultimately forced to demote CEO Dov Charney after repeated allegations of sexual harassment began to interfere with business, but he is still at the company as a consultant and is paid the same salary as when he was chief executive. CNN reports the company’s financials are improving.

The one thing Yarrow thinks consumers won’t forgive is a failure to push boundaries. Abercrombie, another millennial-focused clothing brand, has had its own share of scandals, but she believes its recent sales troubles have more to do with the company’s perceived arrogance and willingness to rest on its laurels. “One girl told me last week ‘They [Abercrombie] haven’t done a thing differently in a decade,’ ” said Yarrow. “Not being daring is more offensive to Gen Y-ers.”

MONEY health

How the Flu Shot Became the New Doorbuster Deal

Flu Shots
Yagi Studio—Getty Images

Pharmacies are using coupons and early season promotions in an aggressive competition to give flu shots to more Americans. The hope is that these efforts give their overall sales a shot in the arm.

Take a look at any chain pharmacy in your neck of the woods, and odds are it’ll be advertising special deals on flu shots. The trade publication Supermarket News recently rounded up a list of promotions showing that retailers are getting “creative” to encourage more customers to get flu shots. CVS promises shoppers that they’ll get a free flu shot (with most insurance plans), as well as a “shopping pass” valid for 20% off non-sale merchandise on the day you’re vaccinated. Safeway knocks a flat 10% off your grocery bill when you come in to get a flu shot. Target is waving a deal of 5% off your total purchase on the day you get a flu shot, which can range in (retail) price from $24.99 to $49.99. Get vaccinated at a Giant Food store and you’ll be rewarded with a coupon book good for savings of more than $30.

What’s more, just as retailers are constantly expanding the Christmas season with promotions and ads that start earlier and earlier every year, pharmacies are trying to beat the competition to the punch by pushing flu shots long before flu season is on the radar of consumers. Walgreens, which is utilizing a “Get a Shot. Give a Shot.” marketing campaign to win over consumers’ flu shot business—money raised helps poor children around the world get vaccinated—announced back on August 19 that all of its stores, health care clinics, and Duane Reade locations (which it also owns) were armed and ready to administer flu shots. Rite Aid actually beat Walgreens by a week, informing customers that flu shots were available at all of its stores starting on August 12, more than two weeks before Labor Day weekend.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with stores encouraging Americans to protect their health by getting flu shots. The CDC recommends annual flu vaccinations for almost everyone ages 6 months and up.

Yet it still seems fair to question the motivation of the flu shot peddlars. You don’t have to be a cynic to see that retailers promote flu vaccinations and other health-minded initiatives at least partly out of self-interest. When CVS stopped selling tobacco products, it was regarded first and foremost as a win for the health of all Americans, but it has also come to be seen as a savvy business move that’s helped the drugstore chain stand out from competitors in the marketplace and boosted the company’s stock price significantly.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that flu vaccinations are very profitable for drug makers and drugstores alike. Sales are increasing rapidly in the age of Obamacare and increased coverage too. Forbes reported in 2013 that the number of flu shots administered by CVS had more than doubled the previous year. For the first quarter of 2014, immunizations at Walgreens were up 34% compared to the previous year. In early September, Meijer Pharmacy announced that it expects to administer 30% more flu shots this season compared to a year ago.

An increase in flu shots means an increase in shoppers, who are especially likely to browse the aisles and buy stuff when they’re given a coupon for discounted merchandise that day. So in a way, flu shots are not unlike loss leaders or Black Friday doorbuster deals: They’re handy for helping retailers to draw loads of customers inside stores. Only with flu shots, pharmacies aren’t losing money each time one is sold, which is often the case with deeply discounted “doorbusters.” Drugstores must also like establishing the idea in the minds of consumers that a store that’s good for vaccinations is also probably a solid go-to resource for nearly all of the customer’s health needs, preventive care in particular.

Varying advice on when flu shots should be administered may raise some eyebrows as well. No one gets more than one flu shot (at least not on purpose), so there’s a natural incentive for pharmacies to try to get their needles into the shoulders of shoppers before the competition does. But is getting a flu shot while it’s still summer a good idea?

Rite Aid certainly thinks so. “Getting a flu shot as soon as it is available is the single best way to protect yourself and others against the flu,” Robert I. Thompson, Rite Aid executive vice president of pharmacy, said in a press release.

“The best time to get a flu shot is not October, but actually before or soon after school starts,” Meijer Drug Store Vice President Nat Love said in a statement. “Once classes begin, kids can literally bring viruses into your home every day, and it becomes difficult to keep influenza from spreading throughout the whole family. There is no expiration date to receiving a flu shot, so the sooner you get your flu shot, the better chance you have of staying healthy.”

As for the CDC, its recommendations for timing are as follows: “Vaccination optimally should occur before onset of influenza activity in the community. Health care providers should offer vaccination soon after vaccine becomes available (by October, if possible). Vaccination should be offered as long as influenza viruses are circulating.”

That would seem to settle that. Only it doesn’t because not everyone is on the same page. Dr. Mark Dowell, an infectious disease doctor at Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases, recently told the Casper Journal (Wyoming) that because a flu shot’s efficacy starts wearing off as early as four months after being injected (perhaps sooner if you’re over 65), you could be asking for trouble by electing to being vaccinated before October 1. “If you get your flu shot too early,” Dr. Dowell said, “you may run out of protection before the peak flu season hits in Wyoming.”

It also seems worth pointing out that, at times, marketers seem guilty of stretching the truth in order to give customers the hard sell on flu vaccinations. “Following a second straight severe flu season in the U.S., and one which impacted younger adults in particular with increased hospitalizations, health officials are encouraging early vaccination to help protect against influenza this season,” a Walgreens statement released in August explained. Indeed, the CDC verifies that the flu hit young people particularly badly in 2014. But overall, it was not a “severe flu season” like Walgreens suggests. In fact, despite the brutally cold winter, cough and flu medicine sales from giants like Procter & Gamble were weak, indicating fewer people were sick.

And, ostensibly, a big reason fewer people were sick is … because they’d gotten flu shots!

So go on and get your flu shot. But go in with your eyes wide open, understanding how the game is played.

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